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Poltergeists Witches and Spontaneous Human combustion

Updated on August 9, 2013

A good portion of all poltergeist cases are associated with mysterious fires. Some fires can be explained in non supernatural terms, though it would perhaps be impossible to test the theory that that in such cases a poltergeist was using mundane methods to create a fire.

This note looks at poltergeist fires both in the context of theories of poltergeist activity and in a wider context.

Fires Follow Family

A puzzling case in 1959 in Alabama involved a man called Calvin Tuck. Fifty mysterious fires occurred. The fires were not started by chemicals but a boy was accused of arson. The family lost their home, which burned down, and moved to other homes but the fires followed them. Their house had no electricity and a metal roof. A local official and a contractor watched fires start but could not explain their origin. When Tuck moved into his fathers home a local voodoo healer gave Tuck a spell to break an alleged hex on the family.

The oldest boy in the family, Calvin Jr, was nine years old, admitted to playing with matches, and two younger children said he had started the fires. Against this all but one fire started near the ceiling, and the remaining fire in a mattress. It is possible to imagine the boy wedging a match in a stick setting light to it and then holding it up to the ceiling till the ceiling caught fire, but that seems unlikely.

Calvin Jr. was outside the house and his father was absent when some of the fires started. Willie Bell, present during most of the conflagrations, wasn’t home on the day the last incidents occurred. One possibility is that a poltergeist entity was involved. However poltergeist entities tend to be confined to one place, whereas activity resulting from spontaneous PK by someone in the family tends to travel with the person. It is possible that,as seems to have been true in the Antigonish case, both a human and a discarnate being were involved

Mystery Fires In Sicily

The Cannetto di Caronio fires started in January 2004, A series of spontaneous fires, mainly along the railway line, and other electromagnetic phenomena and attribution of these to Poltergeist phenomena prompted a scientific investigation. In 2007 it was suggested that the phenomena were caused by intermittent electromagnetic emissions. A state of emergency was imposed and part of the village was evacuated.

One investigator reported watching an unplugged electrical cable burst into flames, a chair burst into flames and a fire started in a water pipe. The manifestation included spontaneous combustion of washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, electricity meters and cables in a number of houses between a railway line and the shore.

Some people of course attributed the outbreak to the devil but this seems to be well below the talents and dignity of that personage, more like a spiritual hooligan breaking things out of boredom, just as kids kick cans in the street.

Fire Bugs

Fires start mysteriously around some people. Perhaps the most famous case, but by no means the only one, is that of

Carole Compton was, in the early 1980s twenty years old and working as a nanny in three different homes in Italy while her Italian boyfriend was doing his military service. Over a 23 day period five fires and other poltergeist activity occurred in the houses.

Nothing happened till one day a small religious picture fell off the wall and smashed on the floor while Carole was walking past it. The superstitious housemaid, made Carole cross herself and hurriedly said a short prayer. My suspicion is that this episode allowed spontaneous PK to manifest: In other words once it happened the unconscious minds of those involved allowed other things to happen. Had the maid just laughed it off probably nothing more would have happened.

When Carole went with the family to their home in the Italian Alps various fires broke out and the family dispensed with her services. In her next job the grandmother, who was superstitious, instantly disliked her, a dislike that became extreme when a fire broke out and other poltergeist activity occurred. The grandmother eventually persuaded the family to call the police and Carole was taken away to a prison. The resulting Media coverage allowed enough money to be raised for her family and a lawyer to travel to see her. After 16 months in jail she was tried.

Carole resisted the idea that anything 'paranormal' was involved. She believed she had no psychic abilities and couldn't understand how she could be a focus for the phenomena.

Forensic experts said they tried, and failed, to recreate the pattern of the fires and one expert testified that a burnt mattress could never have been set alight in the way claimed, as it had burned downwards, rather than up. Exhaustive scientific tests failed to find inflammatory substances or anything else. Teodoro Comploi, Chief fire officer from Ortisi, where some of the fires occurred, said 'I've been a fireman for thirty-eight years, but I've never seen fires like those before.' A Professor Vitolo ( affiliation unknown) testified that he was sure the fires were caused by intense heat not a naked flame. Carole was sentenced to two and a half-years imprisonment, but because of the time already spent in prison, the sentence was suspended and she was released.

The interesting points here are the strange way the mattress burned, which seems to relate to Spontaneous Human Combustion ( it would be nice to know if the mattress fire in the Alabama case also showed anomalies) and the notion that the fires were caused by intense heat.

At the time of Carole's case there were reports about a sixteen-year-old Italian boy, who supposedly made fuse boxes explode and newspapers catch fire whenever he was near. There have been similar reports world wide. It appears that this ability is associated with young people and fades out as they get older.

It is dangerous to make any sort of hypothesis about such cases but they seem to involve a kind of wild psychic ability that could perhaps be channeled and used with appropriate training.

Spontaneous Human Combustion

Spontaneous Human Combustion or SHC is an anomaly explained by mainstream science, but the explanation does ot cover everything.

From time to time there are reports of people, mainly old people, who have apparently been consumed in an intense and very localised fire. The body is consumed but the bed or chair in which they were sitting is hardly touched. There appears to have been no source for the fire. Many cases can be explained by a “wick effect” where the body burns slowly like a candle leaving little or no residue but the origin of the flame is normally atrributed to something like a dropped cigarette.

One skeptic said “If SHC is a real phenomenon (and not the result of an elderly or infirm person being too close to a flame source), why doesn't it happen more often? There are 5 billion people in the world, and yet we don't see reports of people bursting into flame while walking down the street, attending football games, or sipping a coffee at a local Starbucks.”. But this is not true. I have read of cases where a young person was walking down the street and appears to have caught fire, and one person has survived spontaneously combusting. My recollection is that the fire seemed to start inside the victim. The skeptic did not take account of the fact that of the 5 billion population of the earth less than 10% are in a position where such cases would be reported. Wikipedia note that about two dozen people combust every hundred years making it a very rare phenomenon.


While there are chemicals which are safe when wet but spontaneously ignite when dry or crystallising ( the simplest being boiled linseed oil), it would be premature to attribute all poltergeist related fires to arsonists with a knowledge of chemistry. It seems unlikely for instance that a nine year old boy would know of any such chemicals. It is possible that under some circumstances the human body can generate such chemicals inside itself and they then combust, but this would be using one unknown to explain another. And while the human body can accumulate a sufficient charge of static electricity to cause a spark it seems perverse to blame more than a small fraction of poltergeist related fires on the static generated while wearing polymer based clothing although associated malfunction of electrical and electronic equipment may make this hypothesis less unlikely. Perhaps more plausibly, we are warned not to put metal into microwave ovens as that may cause the food in the oven to catch fire. Given we are living in a sea of electromagnetic energy spontaneous fires might be expected but this does not explain any cases from the period when radio and other sources were rare.

It is possible that there are roving poltergeists dedicated to producing manifestations that correspond to the four Western elements,Fire, Water, Earth and Air, or at least having an affinity for one of them (in China the elements are Earth, Metal, Wind, Water, Wood and an examination of Chinese poltergeists might reveal interesting differences). This would explain why some infestations are characterised mainly by fire and others by water, though there seems to be a shortage of Earth and Air related poltergeists. It would also suggest that if spirits are involved the Fire and Water poltergeists are closer to elementals than other types of spirit and may have been in a location before a house was built there.

Yet another possibility is that poltergeist related fires are part of a spectrum ranging at least from mysterious fires via Fire Starters to Spontaneous Human Combustion. This theory has the advantage of covering various phenomena, but may be a false unification.

Some researchers split poltergeist activity into Human Agent Poltergeists and Entity Agent Poltergeists (EAP), with the latter being associated with Fire and Water based phenomena as well as moving heavy objects ( though movement of heavy objects was reported in the early days of the spiritualist movement and in the PK experiments of Bacheldor). EAPs seem to be intelligent, do not centre on a particular person, and are generally restricted to one place. There also seem to be rare cases of extremely malevolent poltergeists which can fairly be described as demonic, though the Christian connotations of that term need to be recognised and factored out, but not necessarily rejected or accepted, during analysis of such a manifestation.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the cases described here do not fit such a neat division.

In brief

When Fraud and criminal activity are not involved mystery fires with a paranormal aspect seem to fall into at least two categories: Poltergeist related and, as in the Sicilian case, fires that have no other paranormal activity associated with them. Spontaneous Human Combustion, when mundane explanations are not enough, may be closer to the second category and mystery fires may all be part of a spectrum of activity with a common cause, but this idea should not be accepted too easily.

And of course there may be a fire god with a mischievous sense of humour directing all this.


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